penelope text 1990

 

Penelope

a collaborative performance
by Ruth Scheuing & March Patch

Banff Center, Banff, Alta. 1990
Centre Expression, Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, 1991
Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey, BC, 1993

altered men's suits, electro acoustic sound, image projection, text

Ruth:
I have looked at your story for a long time now and from many angles and I read many books, but have not found the answers to my questions. But now I found you Penelope, to talk to you in person, from weaver to weaver, so to speak, through our looms..

Penelope:                     
I am glad to be able to tell my own story finally. Others have called me so many things: cunning, wise, guileful, indecisive, modest, virtuous, strong, passive, crafty, controlling my destiny, deceitful, loyal, a model of femininity, chaste, tempting. Plato called my work "a deceitful ruse" and he also made me into the heroic counterpart to Achilles, which shows how contradictory heroic role models can exist. Some legends tell that I slept with all the suitors, but on the other side your christian priests saw me as the symbol of the devoted, faithful wife, although they are not so how to deal with my act of disobedience.... but few talk about my passion, my trust in the future, the only future possible for me with the one I believed in, Odysseus....

Ruth:

When I think of Odysseus, I see him as symbol of heroism, because history made him into this; and then I think of you, Penelope, and wonder if you are a typical heroine, in some sense you are more an anti-hero. Are you heroic and powerful?


Penelope:

I lived at a time, where women submitted to men's rule, at least on the surface; But from our recent past we also knew consciously or not that we could have power, and several women ruled and used this power- Helen and Clymnestra are good examples; history tells mostly about their unfaithfulness, but not of Clymnestra's husband Agammemnon, who was going to kill their daughter in order to get a good omen for winning the war. And Kassandra, who refused herself to the God Apollo was punished by him to become the foreteller of doom, never believed.

Odysseus ran into several powerful women: Calypso, Circe, the Sirens and even Nausicaa and her mother Queen Arete. Essentially Odysseus was challenged by women (and his main support, Athena was a woman too); overcoming them, proved his heroism . Women came to be seen as mystical, dangerous and tempting.


Ruth:
How did you start the weaving, and how did it become more then just a piece of woven cloth?

Penelope
The Trojan war lasted 10 years and most of the men returned 3-4 years later, because The Gods, as a punishment had sent them away from their own homes over unknown and treacherous waters. When Odysseus did not return 6 years later, many suggested that he was dead; this is when I started to weave. First simply to get some piece from the suitors, who could not be sent away, but only stalled; open rebellion would have been punished, and my only hope was in believing that Odysseus was still alive.So I told them that I would choose one of them as husband, after I finished the shroud. The actual process of weaving by day and unweaving by night happened by accident. As I started to weave I became completely absorbed in the task of the perfect weaving, which meant that often parts had to be redone; this allowed me to be passive and active at the same time. The suitors showed great respect for my weaving, particularly at the beginning and they needed me to be an honourable women. It gradually gave me strength and power and my own time to reflect and just maybe, Odysseus could not die, as long as I still wove and I knew he had to face his challenges and himself as I did; that his trials have become more famous doesn't lessen my own, because it is the overcoming of one's own fear that matters, not someone else’s.

Ruth:

Had you known and did you believe in the many "Weaving Goddesses, who wove the world fabric's with the threads of men's and women's lives on their great looms"?


Penelope:|

Consciously, we had lost many of those believes, but some of the original force remained, to be accessed by those willing to look. On the surface, it is like other religions, such as Christianity where Christmas is still celebrated by many who do not believe in Christ’s teaching or where men still control women because the bible said so.  The believe in my power as a woman and weaver came gradually, while I used it not while I consciously thought of it. Weaving gave me piece in my noisy palace, to think and as I thought and worked....


Ruth:

Plato calls your work a "deceitful ruse"; he also compares it with philosophy, something about "your undoing being your real creation". Is the tapestry only an artefact?


Penelope:

I simply concentrated on the task: doing by day light, undoing by candle light. It takes discipline to continue this year after year: to create something of beauty and to undo it every time. Both processes became challenging, giving me focus and discipline. And I could not act any other way; all I could do was prevent my having to act.

But you too know about undoing things. It seems to me that you started to just rip out threads; but gradually the process did take a hold of you, even despite yourself and in some way in contradiction to your purpose. Am I right, or did you really think that you could change things by pulling a few pinstripes from some business suits?


Ruth:

It seems this is a way in which I come to term with doing insignificant acts knowingly.  Creation is neither limited nor absolute, but grounded in reality and experience. The past affects me, so altering a few threads here and there might just change the structure and appearance of the web. That is why I am interested in your work and the reasons behind it.


Penelope:

I was pushed into my actions by what happened. My life developed according to real options I had, not according to choices I could not make. But you are a good one to ask after using my strategy. For me it was a way out but for you it seems to have become a creative process.


Ruth:

I see weaving more as a process then just a product. You know, initially, I was more interested in Goddesses, such as Athena, the Weaver who gave weaving a powerful creative dimension, role models of another time, women with powers to influence.  I became interested in your achievements gradually. I am interested that you worked with limitations and recognized them, visible obstacles are easier to deal with than invisible ones. Maybe you are a layer, a veil, I have to uncover, to go through, beyond, further to let Athena again step into the present..

... .but before I leave you I still want to ask you, what you are doing now?


Penelope:

I am weaving my own story; but not as Homer recorded it. Words can always be misinterpreted, just see what has been done with the Odyssee. My story is a living tapestry, always changing, growing by day, undone at night; never the same, never absolute, neither right nor wrong; neither good nor bad, but always the same story, a mirror in fact where each person can recognize the ideas they project onto "my story".

But I have worked on this for a long time now and in the meantime I might just come and bring a friend to help you alter a few suits and pull a few pinstripes.


Ruth:

I certainly could use your help. Good night Penelope, I am expecting you.


Penelope:                 

Good night Ruth, we will be there!